SAS mission to Libya ends in humiliation as civil war nears
Published 07/03/2011 | 05:00
A British SAS mission to Libya has resulted in humiliation after the troops were first captured by rebels, then a diplomat's plea for their release was broadcast on state television.
The mission was error-strewn from the beginning, when a helicopter carrying the team of seven SAS soldiers and an MI6 officer landed near Benghazi without notifying the rebel commanders -- causing the insurgents to think that they were under attack.
The team aggravated the situation by claiming to be unarmed -- which only made their predicament worse when their weapons were discovered. The group were handcuffed and taken to a military base as British officials frantically tried to secure their release.
A senior British diplomat was then unwittingly broadcast on state television pleading for them to be set free.
Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the rebels' National Council, said: "The reason they were arrested was that they came into the country unofficially and without any arrangement with the Libyan authorities."
Libya continued to veer toward full-scale civil war yesterday. Colonel Gaddafi unleashed the full fury of his arsenal, sending warplanes and ground troops to attack rebel-held positions across Libya.
Government troops attacked three rebel-held towns: Zawiya 30 miles to the west of Tripoli, Misurata 120 miles to the east, and the oil port of Ras Lanuf, taken by the opposition on Saturday. To the west of Ras Lanuf, the Libyan leader aimed to repel a gathering rebel advance on Sirt, his birthplace.
Bombed from the skies and confronted by artillery fire and katyusha rockets, the rebels' disorderly ranks cracked and broke as fighters fled back to the town in disarray, abandoning vehicles, weapons and even wounded comrades.
The government was meanwhile launching an equally ferocious propaganda offensive, claiming to have recaptured large parts of the east including Misurata, Ras Lanuf, Ajdabiya and Tobruk, and to have "driven out al-Qa'ida".
None of the claims appeared to be true, but neither did it appear that Ras Lanuf was fully in rebel hands. (© Daily Telegraph, London)